Last week, I noted that I somehow managed to watch quite a few movies even though my in-laws were in town. Well, this week they left and I didn’t watch very many films at all. I spent a little too much time binge-watching a Netflix show to refresh my memory before watching Season Two. I did watch a couple of movies and read a couple of books so let;s get started.
If I might be a hipster for a moment, I liked Stranger Things before Stranger Things was cool. Netflix, as is there way, just kind of put it out there without a lot of promotion. They were putting it towards the top of their page when you logged it but that's pretty much all the advertising it got.
I’d never heard of it but the little "about" card sounded interesting and one day, when I was bored, I threw it on for fun. I was hooked almost immediately. The Duffer Brothers have taken all the great bits of my childhood pop-culture consumption, put it in a blender, and made something awesome.
What I love about the show is that while it is an amalgamation of so many things from the 1980s (including the works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter), it isn’t just a constant reference machine or a hollow homage. They’ve collected the look and feel (and even some plot points) from those things, but made it their own. And they’ve managed to tell a really compelling story with interesting characters.
In preparation for Season 2. which dropped today, I’ve been binge watching Season 1 and it still holds up really well. That’s the power of a good story, not just a nostalgia machine.
The Newport Folk Festival looms large in the history of American popular music. It discovered Joan Baez, helped solidify Bob Dylan as our national conscience (then booted him out for going electric), plucked Mississippi John Hurt from obscurity, and was ground zero for the American Folk Revival. Criterion has just re-released the excellent documentary about the festival from 1963 - 1966. It's a fantastic watch and you can read my full review here.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman
Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman is not so much a history of the comics character but a biography of her equally fascinating creator William Moulton Marston as well as a history of the second wave of feminism in the 1930s and '40s.
Marston was a Harvard grad, psychiatrist, and professor. He invented the lie-detector test. He worked for Hollywood studios using his pyschiatry background to help shape scripts that would be more pleasing to audiences. He used his lie- detector test on audiences to decide things like whether blondes or brunettes are more romantic. He worked on Superman as an advisor to deter critics from saying comic books were bad for their youth. He created Wonder Woman after he failed at just about everything else. He lived with two women for most of his life. One was his wife the other his (and his wife’s) mistress. Both had children sired by Marston. They stayed living together decades after he died. One was the niece of feminist icon Margret Sanger.
Lepore intelligently tells his story, the story of Wonder Woman, and the story of the early feminist movement together in a really easy-to-read book. It's fascinating and highly recommended.
Little Orphan Annie
The Library of American Comics continues to bring classic American comic strips back from the dead and into really wonderfully made hard back books. I got another chance to read some strips from the little red headed orphan and it was a delight. My full review is here.
The Trouble with Harry
Hitchcock makes a comedy. He made one much earlier in his career (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, 1941) but it is a dud. Actually it was a hit, but it does not hold up well at all. The Trouble with Harry bombed at the box office but it works pretty well for me.
The plot is extraordinarily light. A young child stumbles upon a dead man up on a mountainside. Not long after an older man, the Captain, stumbled upon it as well and believes he killed him as he’d been out hunting and isn’t much of a shot. Before he can do anything, several others literally stumble over the body but don’t pay it much attention. Then an artist finds it while out painting. The Captain and the Artist argue over what to do with it, eventually deciding they ought to just bury it. Then they unbury it, and bury it again.
Turns out the dead guy is Shirley MacLaine’s (in her first role ever) husband, but that’s ok, she didn’t like him very much. She thinks it was her who killed him as she whacked him in the head with a milk bottle. Another old lady thinks she killed him as she hit him in the head with her shoe. They unbury him and bury him one more time for good measure.
All of this is handled with a light touch. Hitchcock isn’t looking for thrills but laughter. There is lots of that but it's of the soft-chuckling kind rather than the fall-out-of-your-seat, tears-streaming-down-your-face sort. It's an amusing film with some nice performances, but ultimately pretty forgettable.
The Square (2017)
I get a lot of e-mails from movie promoters. If I’m being honest, I often don’t pay them much attention. I just don’t have the time to look at every poster, watch every trailer, and read every synopsis of every movie ever made. But now and again, I’ll dig in and sometimes I find something really cool.
The Square was directed by Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund and stars Elisabeth Moss, Claes Bangm, and Dominic West. It's about an art museum and…well, you should just watch. It looks kind of awesome.